The presence of St. Mirren youth squads of all ages at this Scottish Youth Cup semi-final lent the West Stand something of a carnival atmosphere, even if the rather dreich weather conditions didn't follow suit. The Buddies' future stars were in fine voice throughout the tie, whilst a local marketing campaign highlighting reasonable ticket prices and an opportunity to see the emergence of new talent contributed to an impressive turnout at Greenhill Road. A great atmosphere, then, for either side to book their place in the cup final before. When players in both monochrome and light blue emerged from the tunnel for the first half (let's attribute the stadium DJ's choice of Kernkraft 400 by Zombie Nation to the infectious joviality of the crowd), it was to respectful applause from fans of both sides.
Residents of the technical boxes were, of course, all business. One needn't explain the prestige of the Scottish Youth Cup to St. Mirren's Head of Youth Development, David Longwell, whose unchecked passion would see him sent to the stands in the second half, or to the singularly furious Gordon Durie, who evidently hadn't seen a hometown return as occasion to let his charges away with giving anything less than 100%.
Scarcely surprising, then, that both teams got out of the blocks at full tilt. The game's first five minutes saw the home side's Anton Brady and Lewis Morgan link up to some considerable effect in attack, weaving quick one-twos through their opponents' defence in the first 10 minutes. Morgan in particular tested Gers keeper Liam Kelly on a number of occasions.
Their offensive pressure was returned in the form of recurrent Rangers counter-attacks. From the game's seventh minute the Buddies were made aware of Rangers' powerful, pacy centre forward Jamie Burrows, as a seemingly innocuous clearance ended up forcing goalkeeper Chris Dilo into a good save. Saints defender Mark Barrowman believed he was in control when he ran to collect the running ball, but Burrows stormed up the left side of St. Mirren' half to dispossess the number three and challenge Dilo one-on-one.
It wasn't the last time an attendant Ally McCoist would have reason to take notice of the Rangers striker. Burrows would pressure the otherwise unflappable Dilo into a misplaced defensive pass on 14 minutes, setting up fellow forward player Darren Ramsay for a shot on the edge of the area. A neat saved from the home side's number one followed.
For their part, St. Mirren looked to Lewis McLear and Thomas Reilly for the majority of their threats as genuine chances became few and far between. The former set up the latter for a shot in the 23rd minute, playing a smooth backheel to feet in an opening amongst the St. Mirren defence. Reilly shot just left of goal.
The Saints could plausibly have gone ahead near the break if Anton Brady - squaring up against a panicked Glaswegian back line in the centre of the pitch - had chosen to shoot, rather than knock the ball right to unprepared teammate Thomas Reilly. Opposition defender Craig Halkett intercepted and cleared away any danger, and it was telling of a home team who lacked a decisive cutting edge in this game.
The first half closed with a goalmouth scramble in the St. Mirren penalty area. Amidst confusion and a throng of bodies, both Callum Gallacher and a still-threatening Burrows managed to fire off shots which Chris Dilo – firmly proving himself as a top-quality shot stopper – got down to palm away.